How to Choose the Right Innerspring Mattress
If the words “innerspring mattress" conjure up memories of the old, saggy, squeaky bed you had to sleep on at Grandma's house when you were a kid, then prepare to be surprised.
The innerspring mattress landscape has changed in the last decade, explains Terry Cralle, RN, a certified clinical sleep educator, co-author of Sleeping Your Way to the Top, and Saatva sleep consultant. Now, the best innerspring mattresses feature innovative materials, designs, and manufacturing methods. “I'm blown away by the new stuff that's out there that wasn't out there even a year or two ago," she says.
Some innerspring mattresses of years past were knocked (not unfairly) for being difficult to share with a partner, because the springs magnified every toss and turn. Others became notoriously whiny after a certain age. But recent improvements have completely changed that paradigm, Cralle says.
If you're new to today's innerspring mattresses, here's what you need to know to find the best innerspring mattress for you.
How to find the best innerspring mattress
According to a 2016 Consumer Reports study, innerspring mattresses dominate the market, beating out their foam and latex counterparts. No wonder: they've had a big head start. The first steel coil bedspring was patented way back in 1885. By the 1930s, innerspring beds had become the mainstay of sleep surfaces.
While modern innerspring mattresses still have that familiar "springy" feeling—after all, there's a reason why they're the best mattress for jumping on—the introduction of foam, gel, and pillow-top layers mean that different brands and models can feel completely different and accommodate a wide variety of sleeping preferences.
What's inside an innerspring mattress
Looking for an innerspring mattress definition? The name gives it away: The core of an innerspring mattress is a system of steel or titanium support coils, covered by layers of fabric, foam, and padding for comfort. Coil count varies from a few hundred to more than 1,000. Coils also come in different thicknesses, known as “gauge" in mattress-speak. The higher the gauge, the thinner and more flexible the coil. Both factors together help determine the firmness and comfort of the mattress.
Older-generation innerspring mattresses typically had a few layers of fabric and padding covering the coils, and not much else. Newer "hybrid" designs feature foam or pillowtop layers for comfort, the inclusion of gels and other materials specifically designed to keep the sleep surface cool, and hypoallergenic fabrics that can be less irritating to people with allergies or asthma.
Learn More About Saatva's Innerspring Mattress
How do I know if I'm getting the best innerspring mattress?
Traditionally a higher number of coils in an innerspring mattress was an indication of higher quality, since more coils meant that the surface could better conform to the sleeper's body. If you’re looking for the best innerspring mattress, keep in mind that today, coil count is less important than how the coils are designed. Individually pocketed coils, for example, can move independently, which gives them superior contouring ability while also minimizing motion transfer (the term for what happens when one person in the bed tosses and turns or gets up during the night). In older-style Bonnell, or open, coil systems, the coils are linked together and move as a unit. That makes for a durable and supportive surface, but one that doesn't offer as much in the way of pressure relief or isolating motion.
There's no one measure of innerspring mattress quality, Cralle says, but there are a few ways to be sure that you're getting a product that will be durable, supportive, and comfortable. When searching for the best innerspring mattress, start by understanding the construction of the bed:
- What is the type and arrangement of coils?
- What materials are in the other layers?
- What is the purpose of each layer?
Compare quality reviews, Cralle advises—but skip customer reviews when it comes to others' opinion of comfort. That factor is individual, so it probably won't help you find the best innerspring mattress for you. “One person's dream mattress may be another person's nightmare," she says.
It's a good idea to look for the best rated innerspring mattress, but do pay specific attention to customer reviews that address:
- comfort guarantees
- warranty issues
- delivery experiences
- customer service in general
- complaints about allergy irritations
What's the best innerspring mattress for me?
The best innerspring mattress for you is going to be the one that most closely matches your sleep style, body type, and comfort preferences. It's important to do your homework and research any mattress before you buy, Cralle says. At the end of the day, though, the only way to really know whether a mattress is the right fit is to sleep on it, so make sure that whatever mattress you buy has a generous in-home trial period.
In addition to the quality measures above, here are some other things to consider when you're looking to buy the best innerspring mattress:
- If you have allergies or asthma, be sure to ask what's in each component of the bed and scan those customer reviews for any allergy-related issues. Are people complaining about odors or off-gassing that affect people with allergies, asthma, or chemical sensitivities? If you know you're allergic to a common material, look out for specially made beds like a latex allergy mattress.
- If you sleep “hot," an innerspring is a good choice, since coils naturally allow for more air flow than foam mattresses. But even within innersprings there are differences, depending on whether the coils are individually pocketed (better for air flow) and what type/how much foam is in the top, or comfort, layer.
- If you have a BMI above 25, consider the thickness of the mattress. Innerspring mattresses tend to be thicker than foam mattresses, but in general the Better Sleep Council recommends a mattress be at least 10 inches thick if you weigh between 250 and 400 pounds, and at least 14 inches if you weigh more than 400 pounds. (Here's how to break in an innerspring mattress.)
- If you're older, consider whether you will be able to get in and out of bed easily. Also whether the mattress has good edge support, meaning you can sit (or lie) on the edge without feeling like you will take a tumble. Newer innersprings typically have more layers than older ones, so compare the height of your new mattress to your existing one, and measure how tall it will be once it's sitting on top of a box spring or foundation. “I have people who tell me, 'I bought a new mattress and didn't realize it was so high off the floor, and now it's difficult for me to get in and out of," Cralle says. That's especially a concern if someone is older and may be frail or at a higher risk for falls.
For more info on mattress types, read our guide to innerspring vs. memory foam.